I would like to take this opportunity to share our experience that we had in Jerusalem, which I consider as the “Jewel of Israel”. I do apologise for posting this report late due to my research work commitments. This will be my last report for Israel that I will be writing. I do have about 20 to 30 reviews that I need to write about Israel that will eventually go over time on Trip Advisor Review section about places/hotels/restaurants etc.
Being my last report, I would like to acknowledge some extraordinary people. Without their help I don’t think our journey to Israel would have been fruitful.
• Douglas Duckett: Even though we had planned to go to Israel for many years (never got the time) our inspiration came after reading Douglas Duckett guide “Israel: A Personal Travel Guide”. Thank you Douglas for sharing it with others for free.
• Our Private Tour Guide for Israel (Chana Koren): I would like to thank Ms.Chana Koren our extraordinary private tour guide for Jerusalem. Seriously, doing a private tour is not a joke. Imagine standing outside in the sun from 8:00 AM to 4:00 PM and talking non-stop and being patient all the time! There is no way I could ever do this in a million years. Chana Koren holds a degree in Israel studies and archaeology and that is the main reason we hired her. I and my wife we are book worms of history and archaeology (we love archaeology). We call Chana as the “talking archaeological encyclopaedia”. So if you ever go to Israel and you are looking to hire a talking and moving archaeological encyclopaedia you know who to hire. She is very good with children and be careful of “aunty Chana syndrome”. Our daughter still misses her. Chana’s profile can be viewed over here israel-guides.net/guideinfo.php/chana-tour…
• Oreet Segal: During the initial stage of our planning when we had asked a question on where to find Frankincense and Myrrh tree in Israel the only person who knew the answer to our post was Oreet. So we thank you very much for that answer. It was once in our life time opportunity to see these rare Biblical trees at En Gedi Botanical Gardens.
• The three Ambassadors of Trip Advisor Israel: In life there are some people who always stand out. As a Christian, I constantly remind myself of a verse from the Bible which is “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works”. There are three people who for me are the LIGHT of Israel. They include anmejoshme (DE of Israel), shoshi (DE of Israel), and PRSV (a regular contributor). As an Australian I salute you. People like you that have an impeccable character must truly become Ambassadors of Israel. It is an embarrassment that we don’t have more people like you in this world. If you ever come to Australia, please do let me know as I will prepare an Aussie banquet for you. Don’t worry it will definitely be Kosher food.
• My friends & other DE’s from Trip Advisor Israel: Seriously the amount of friends you make on Trip Advisor is just great. From Israel, Canada, UK, US, and other parts it’s too many people to count. I do sincerely apologise not sending you guys our travel photos even though many have asked me via private messages. The reason being, most of the photos are 8 MB in size and there is no way it can be send via email. I did try sending them, but they all bounced back. The good news is that I have created a You Tube video of our travel to Israel and that video has many photos. So you can see what we saw through our eyes. I will post the link of the You Tube video at the end of the report.
“JERUSALEM” THE GEM OF ISRAEL:
Jerusalem is indeed the city of peace and it is so hard to explain this feeling. You have to physically be there to experience it yourself. Olive tree grows in Jerusalem as grass grows. Everywhere you turn you can see an Olive Tree. Olive tree symbolise peace and now you know why it is called as the city of peace. Jerusalem is preserved in time and history. Everything is old, distinctive and has a remarkable story to tell. From the moment you walk on the street, the look on peoples face, the Hebrew language that you hear, the atmosphere of prayer and worship you witness is just outstanding. On a side note, I also saw at many places our national Aussie Eucalyptus tree in Israel. Our lovely Israeli neighbour said that it was planted by Jewish settlers to dry swamps in Israel in the 20th century. It was great to see an Aussie tree in Israel.
We stayed at Sharons Apartments (http://www.sharonsplaces.com/) which provides luxury style accommodations in Jerusalem. The accommodation was unquestionably excellent as we were in the heart of Jerusalem.
Day one in Jerusalem: we visited Yad Vashem and Israel Museum. I won’t be talking much about this as they will go in the review section. You just cannot miss these two places when you visit Israel. “A MUST VISIT”.
Day two Jerusalem: We were picked up by Chana Koren from our accommodation at 8:00 AM and from there we took a taxi to our first stop on our itinerary which was The Mount of Olives.
THE MOUNT OF OLIVES: As a Christian I just couldn’t believe that I was standing at the Mount of Olives due to its religious significance. This is the place where the Messiah is going to come as per Bible prophecy. On one hand I was very happy and on the other hand it was very emotional for me. The view that you get from the Mount of Olives is just breathtaking. It is beyond belief. You can see the Al-Aqsa Mosque (Golden Dome), the Jewish cemetery, Kidron Valley, Russian Orthodox Church of Maria Magdalene (gold onion shaped domes) and other beautiful places. The whole bible from the time of prophets comes to life especially when we saw the Jewish cemetery. It is said that the Messiah will come through the golden gate (the sealed gate) and bring about the resurrection of the dead in the cemetery (Refer Ezekiel 44:1–3). It is very interesting to listen & understand the history of sealing the gate done by Suleiman the Magnificent who sealed off the Golden Gate to prevent the Messiah's entrance (photo of the gate can be seen on our You Tube video).
If you are a person who read the books of prophets (refer to your Bible) you will know more about what I am talking about. The Jewish cemetery is the oldest and one of the largest cemeteries in the world. You won’t believe this. To buy a plot to get buried in that cemetery will cost you about $30,000 to $50,000 US Dollars or more. Important people, Chief Rabbis, the wealthy, tombs of Zechariah and Absalom are all part of this cemetery. Prayer requests inserted at the Western Wall are taken and buried at a special place on The Mount of Olives.
TIPS FOR FIRST TIME TRAVELLERS:
[A] If you ask me is it safe to go to the Mount of Olives alone, I would think twice before answering that question (read between the lines). There are some ongoing issues between two different ethnic groups of people. If you read the Israel newspaper online you would know what I am talking about. This is not a new problem, but is an ongoing issue. If you are travelling with a tour operator/tour guide there is nothing to worry as they can sense any sort of danger. While walking down the Mount of Olives there are security cameras every one meter on either side. I have never seen this much security cameras kept on a road in my life. As I said before, I would recommend going to this place with a tour operator/tour guide, other than that I am not going to say anything more.
[B] Walking down the Mount of Olives is very steep. You should wear sturdy/sports shoes as the path is very steep and there are some areas of gravel. Please dress modestly (men & women) due to the religious singifance of these places.
THE GARDEN OF GETHSEMANE:
As we walked down the steep hill at the bottom of the Mount of Olives we entered the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of the Agony, also called the Church of All Nations. I must admit that I had tears dripping when I saw it. This is where Jesus Christ wept and did his last prayer. It was a very moving and emotional experience. There are massive olive trees and I think it has been there for the past 2000 years. You have to see it to believe it. The church that is built over there is beautiful, colourful and the art work on the front of the church is just mind blowing. You can see the church photo on our You Tube video that we made.
TOMBS OF SONS OF HAZIR, ZECHARIA AND ABSALOM IN THE KIDRON VALLEY:
This is quite a long walk to get here (I must admit that it was challenging when pushing a pram with a three year old). The tomb is built on the lower foothills of Mount of Olives facing the old city of Jerusalem on the eastern side of Kidron valley. This entire area is a large cemetery with many tombs and this is one of the famous and largest of all. You can see this on our You Tube video that we made.
Talk about ancient architectural genius design, this is it. I have no idea how they did it. I am sure many can’t do this today with the tools they had in those days. The tunnel was carved during the reign of Hezekiah to bring water from one side of the city to the other. We personally did not go through the tunnel because we seriously thought this was terrifying. You go through a pitch dark, narrow claustrophobic water tunnel for 30 or so minutes. There are no signs, no light, & no exits (except on the other side). Moreover, it is impossible to do this when you have a child of 3 years. If you can do it, go for it. But if you are claustrophobic like me, definitely don’t risk it.
CITY OF DAVID:
I am not sure where to start talking about this. It was just fabulous. You must not miss the 3D movie that shows about the City of David. It is absolutely fabulous and we just loved it. To see the whole city of David you need about 3 hours or so. If you have little children it could be a little more. The highlight is the number of excavations that are still found in the city. Seriously I had thoughts of becoming Indiana Jones many times when I was there in the City of David. If you love archaeology and history this is the place to be. I would suggest going there as early as possible to avoid the visitors rush.
OSKAR SCHINDLER GRAVE:
This was a very humble experience to finally in my life to visit the grave of Oskar Schindler and to pay a tribute to a man who saved the life of 1200 Jews. Regardless of the weakness he had as a human being (which we all have), he did what others did not do. It was very emotional to see his grave and to touch and pay a tribute. He is buried at the Catholic cemetery on the southern slope of Mount Zion. For those of you who do not know Oskar Schindler I would suggest seeing the Oscar award movie “Schindler’s List”. The movie received seven academy awards.
It is a very small and old gallery of the holocaust. Compared to Yad Vashem the images shown on the wall of the holocaust cellar are quiet upsetting. BUT, it depends on how you would take it in. Because there are no entrance fees I would suggest if you can, please make a donation. It really needs a big time redevelopment.
KING DAVID TOMB:
We visited the “traditional site” of King David’s tomb. “Tradition” means - it is part of the tradition, not the actual place where King David was buried as he was buried in the city of David. Men and women enter by two different entrances. There were a few ultra-orthodox Jews praying facing the tomb. I was humbled when I saw that.
We (me & my wife) being a monarchist (a person who pledge their life and loyalty to a King/Queen), it was quiet emotional to see the tomb. The level of devotion of the Jewish people still touches me that they have to King David of Israel. Amen.
THE TEMPLE INSTITUTE:
The Temple Institute is a fabulous place to see the priestly garments of the High Priest serving in the temple. They are located in the Jewish Quarter. This organisation is dedicated in creating the next temple on Mount Moriah. If you are a believer of this (we are), you cannot miss the place. But you have to have a good understanding of the “Book of Ezekiel” and the vision that he had to understand the work that the people who run the Temple Institute does. Their website address is http://www.templeinstitute.org/
Visiting the Western wall was the most emotional and spiritual journey we had. It was a great privilege to touch the wall and pray. It was a spine tingling experience. Now I know why it is also called as the Wailing Wall.
TIPS FOR TRAVELLERS VISITING WESTERN WALL:
[A] Please make sure you dress very modestly (both men/women). Don’t put yourself in an awkward situation by underdressing.
[B] “Security at the western wall is massive”. From X-ray machines, bomb detectors, army, special police you just name it, they have it present over there. So please ensure that you “behave appropriately” when you visit this very Holy place.
[C] If you are going by taxi, it is better that you ask the driver to take you to “Kotel” rather than saying Western Wall. When we visited Western Wall alone (without Chana Koren), the taxi driver had no idea what this Western Wall or Wailing Wall was! He had to make some phone calls to find out what we were talking about. He then said most taxi drivers know it by the name “Kotel”.
BAR MITZVAH procession:
If you get to see a Bar Mitzvah procession I would strongly recommend please do see it. It is absolutely fabulous. The singing, dancing, WOW! Some processions go from the Jewish Quarter area and then move towards the Western Wall. We were so fortunate to see couple of them and we just loved it.
For Christians the most important and meaningful thing many will do while in the city is walk the Via Dolorosa, the route that Jesus Christ took between his condemnation by Pilate and his crucifixion and burial.
But unfortunately this was the most disappointing experience in our whole life for me and my wife. When you are walking, you are trying to visualise the pain that Christ took carrying the cross through those steps. I cannot believe what we saw next. That whole walk (may be 0.5 Miles to walk) was “defiled with shops or as one would say desecrated that holy place” on both sides for the whole walk. There is no way you can concentrate on God as you see shops on both sides. Like I said, this is a big time disappointment. It was a market place rather than a place to meditate on God and on his sacrifice.
CHURCH OF THE HOLY SEPULCHRE:
Once you walk through Via Dolorosa you end at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Most archaeologists do agree that this may be the place that Jesus Christ would have been buried. The place was filled with tourists. There were huge lines to enter the church. But you just cannot miss it. The earlier you go, the more you can explore this site.
CLOSING COMMENTS ON JERUSALEM:
Coming to Israel was a life changing event for our family. Being a university researcher we always look for inspiration all the time. Whenever I talk about overseas travel to my friends, I always remind them of my favourite travel aphorism which is…
“We are so often caught up in our destination that we forget to ‘appreciate the journey’, especially the ‘goodness of the people’ we meet on the way. Appreciation is a wonderful feeling, don't overlook it.”
When we were going from Jerusalem to Tel Aviv we said GOOD BYE to our wonderful Jewish neighbour who is 92 years. When we told her we were leaving to Australia and we want to say BYE…she told us, no you must not say BYE. You must tell me “see you next year in Yerushalayim”. It was very emotional when we heard that.
As human beings instead of looking at the big picture we dwell on the misfortune or on the negative things that may happen to us. So my suggestion would be to think this way…“whatever happens I will enjoy my visit to Israel”.
Jerusalem is definitely the “crown of Israel” and you cannot miss it. The best way for us to share what we saw in Israel was to create a travel video so that many of our family and cousins could see it. Since I have many good friends on Trip Advisor I would like to share this video link so that others can also see it.
Our “personal travel video” is created on what we saw and what we believe. Our travel video may not be suitable for everyone as it might bring memories of the Holocaust. “Viewer discretion is advised”. If you have any specific questions about the video, please message me privately rather than posting it over here. If it is a general question, you can post it here. Ensure that your computer speakers are turned on to listen to the music when you watch the video. If there are any issues with the video link, please let me know and I can send you another one.
LINK TO THE TRAVEL VIDEO:
Video running time: 17 minutes
Name of Video: Israel Travel 2012: Our Story to the Holy Land
We wish all future travellers the very best in travel to Jerusalem. As for us we shall “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem" (PSALM 122:6).
Best wishes for future travellers and God Bless.
(Dr Vinesh & Family, 01 Aug 2012)